D.J. Haza presents the next entry in his series of films to watch before you die…
When We Were Kings, 1996.
Directed by Leon Gast.
Starring Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
This phenomenal and Oscar winning documentary covered the lead up to, main event and immediate aftermath of The Rumble in the Jungle. The fight took place in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974 between Muhammad Ali and the Heavyweight Champion of the World, George Foreman. The Rumble in the Jungle is not just one of the most famous fights ever, but was accompanied by a soul music festival that saw many African-American musicians heading to Africa to perform. Controversy also surrounded the great fight with Zaire’s brutal dictator President Mobutu funding the fight out of his countries pocket.
The film follows the two fighters from their arrival in Zaire and their respective receptions, it showed their training, them meeting the local people and how they prepared. Ali became a hero to the local people and when he went out jogging hundreds of people would jog with him for as long as they could whilst chanting ‘Ali Bumaye!’, which meant Ali, kill him. Foreman was the villain as far the locals were concerned and Ali their great hero.
When We Were Kings is not just a nostalgic look back at a great fight, but touches on the controversy and the darker side of Don King’s first big promotion. The film gives an idea as to how Zaire was run at the time and picks up on the small and large details that threatened to ruin the occasion.
The film brings together footage from the fight and the press coverage as well as interviewing people such as Spike Lee, Norma Mailer and George Plimpton years after and asking them to recall their impressions of Zaire and Ali especially. They talk of Foreman spending his training time pounded away at huge heavy bags to build his strengths and Ali sparring with his weaker hand in order to strengthen his weakness.
The local people adored Ali and Foreman was vilified, but many of those involved in boxing thought that Ali wasn’t up to the task. They thought Foreman was too strong and powerful for Ali, who was looking to win back the belt taken away from him after he refused to fight in the USA’s war with Vietnam. Some even thought Ali was going to die in the ring because he would be too stubborn to lose, but Ali rallied his dressing room and lifted spirits. The resulting fight was not what anyone had expected and Ali pulled off his famous ‘rope-a-dope’ tactics to tire out the big hitting Foreman and then picked him off to win the fight.
When We Were Kings is a film you must see before you die because it is a beautiful documentary that brings to life one of the most famous boxing fights ever. It shows the great Muhammad Ali in all his splendor and glory inside and outside of the ring. In Ali’s victory he rejoices and reflects on the fight as he regained what he always thought was rightfully his – the Heavyweight Championship of the World. I was genuinely moved to tears at the film’s finish and could watch it over and over and over again. Ali Bumaye!